Kristin Smart’s killer will be back before a judge Friday. Paul Flores is set to be sentenced in a Salinas courtroom for the 1996 death of Kristin Smart.
Before that happens, the judge will hear motions filed by both sides in the case. Paul's defense attorney is motioning for a new trial, dismissal of charges and acquittal. The prosecution is asking the court deny those motions.
If those motions are denied, Paul will then be sentenced for Kristin's murder.
KRISTIN SMART DISAPPEARS
The 19-year-old was a freshman at Cal Poly when she vanished following an off-campus party. Her family has been waiting decades for justice.
It all started in May 1996 over Memorial Day weekend. Kristin spent the evening at a house party on Crandall Way just steps away from the Cal Poly campus.
She and three other students, including Paul Flores, began walking back to Kristin’s dorm room. The trek to Muir Hall should have taken just minutes, but Kristin never made it.
During that walk, Paul, also a freshman at the time, assured the others he’d make sure Kristin got safely back home.
He told investigators he walked her as far as Santa Lucia Hall where his dorm room was located and she headed to nearby Muir Hall, but that was the last anyone would ever see of her.
Kristin’s roommate became suspicious the next morning when Kristin didn’t come home and left many of her personal items behind.
Kristin was reported missing two days after she was last seen.
Her mother, Denise, admitted that Kristin had been frustrated with some hard classes, but said she couldn’t imagine she would leave on her own without telling anyone.
Later that month, the Cal Poly Police Department turned the investigation into Kristin’s disappearance over to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
It wasn’t long before Paul Flores was identified a person of interest in the case.
According to investigators, Flores had a black eye the days following Kristin’s disappearance and during a later search, dogs trained to find human remains reacted to his dorm room.
Flores has consistently denied any involvement in the case, telling investigators during a June 1996 interview that he didn't think it mattered that he left out details about how he got his black eye and that he hadn’t left out any details from what he told them happened the night Kristin went missing.
“There isn’t anything you’re leaving out?” the investigator asked Paul. “Nothin,” Paul replied. “Nothin?” the investigator questioned again, with Paul replying “nothin.” “Nothin at all?” the investigator asked. "Paul replied, “nothin’ at all.” You’re not leaving it out just because you’re afraid we’ll think you’re a suspect?” Paul was asked. He replied, “There’s nothing I remember that I, you know.” The investigator then mentioned they could bring in a polygraph.
The interview is part of a 48-minute included in trial evidence that was recently released.
Early on in the investigation, searches were conducted in the Arroyo Grande homes belonging to Flores’ parents, but no evidence leading to Kristin’s remains were ever recovered. Years would pass with no resolution in the case.
Paul Flores was a longtime person-of-interest in the case but repeatedly refused to cooperate with the investigation.
It wasn’t until shortly before his arrest in April 2021 that law enforcement confirmed Paul was now a suspect in Kristin’s disappearance.
THE CASE MOVES FORWARD
Ultimately, three major turning points are credited with the case ending up in front of a jury.
In 2010, Ian Parkinson was elected San Luis Obispo County Sheriff. He promised during his campaign that he would review and restart the investigation into Smart’s missing person’s case.
As part of that promise, he asked the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to add a position to the department – someone who could focus solely on finding additional evidence and moving cold cases forward.
In 2017, long-time local detective Clint Cole was assigned to the newly-created position of Cold Case/Unsolved Homicide Detective.
Even modern media played a role in reinvigorating the case.
In 2019, local resident Chris Lambert started to document the case on a new podcast called, “Your Own Backyard.”
And while Sheriff Parkinson is quick to give Lambert credit for generating interest, Parkinson also insists the case was already moving toward a resolution.
“Chris helped us. Chris was a really good, reliable partner in the sense that he would share stuff with us that was ordinarily something you might not share,” Parkinson previously said. “And people would share things with him, so he was a good partner, but there was no spark that changed the case.”
In 2021, Sheriff Parkinson finally felt like he was ready to make an arrest.
“So, ultimately, it was a conversation between the D.A. and myself and we made a decision that we were ready and we believed the case was ready,” Parkinson said.
He chose the Cal Poly campus as the place to announce on April 13, 2021 that Paul Flores, now 46, and his father, Ruben Flores, had been arrested that morning and charged in connection with Kristin Smart’s murder.
THE DUAL JURY TRIAL
From opening statements to closing arguments, prosecutors laid out a case of mostly circumstantial evidence for jurors.
Paul and Ruben Flores’ defense attorneys told those same jurors that the evidence wasn’t enough to prove the Flores’ had anything to do with Smart’s disappearance.
During San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Chris Peuvrelle’s opening statement, on July 18, 2022, he told the jury, “Evidence will show that Paul Flores murdered Kristin Smart and buried her under the deck.” He was referring to the deck behind Ruben Flores’ house in rural Arroyo Grande.
Peuvrelle laid out a theory that Paul walked Kristin back to his dorm room, attempted to sexually assault her and then killed her, later moving the body to his father’s house.
Peuvrelle called two other students to the stand who initially walked with Paul and Kristin as they left the off-campus party the night she went missing.
They each described how Kristin was too intoxicated to walk on her own and how Paul had told them he’d make sure she got back to her dorm room safely.
Jurors heard from a friend of Paul’s who questioned him about a black eye two days later. Paul’s friend, Jeremy Moon, testified Paul told him he didn’t know how he got it, but said he noticed it before the two played basketball that weekend. Paul later told investigators several different versions of how he got the black eye including while playing basketball and while fixing the radio in his truck.
Several cadaver dog handlers testified about their dogs independently alerting to Paul’s mattress in his dorm room.
Sheriff’s department and district attorney investigators told jurors about searches at Ruben’s house detailing what they found, including fibers under the deck, positive presumptive blood tests, and what Peuvrelle called “trophies” about the case in Ruben’s bedroom referring to saved newspaper articles and flyers detailing the case.
What prosecutors didn’t have is a body.
It was then the defense’s turn. Paul’s attorney, Robert Sanger, and Ruben’s attorney, Harold Mesick, tried to convince jurors their clients were not guilty.
They called their own expert witnesses to refute the soil and blood evidence found under the deck.
Both defense attorneys pointed out inconsistencies in the witness testimonies and how several of their stories changed over time. Sanger said one person who has not changed his story for the past 26 years is Paul Flores.
Sanger ultimately told jurors the case was straight forward: “There is no evidence of a murder so that is really the end of it.”
He put a power point slide up for jurors during his closing argument that read, “Unless the evidence proves the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he is entitled to an acquittal, and you must find him not guilty.”
Paul and Ruben each had separate juries who returned different verdicts.
During the three-month-long dual jury trial, which began in July and wrapped up in October of last year, jurors found Paul guilty of murdering Kristin but a separate jury acquitted his father on charges that he helped his son cover up the crime.
Friday's motion hearings are set to begin in Monterey County at 9 a.m. Friday. If the motions are denied, sentencing will take place following those hearings.
Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O'Keefe granted a request by KSBY and other media outlets for audio and video recording of the sentencing. Judge O'Keefe granted the request. The hearing will not be live streamed, but KSBY anchor Richard Gearhart will be in court as Paul Flores' sentence is handed down and will have the latest on KSBY and KSBY.com as soon as information is available.